It is not unusual for museums to lose pieces in its collections. Artifacts, illegally dug or improperly exported, are routinely returned to their country of origin. Paintings, confiscated by Nazis, are found and returned to their owners. But the story about 4,500 pre-Columbian artifacts at the Brooklyn Museum is a strange one.
Minor Cooper Keith (1848-1929) built the railroad in Costa Rica, was given huge tracts of land in payment, established banana plantations there, and founded the United Fruit Company. He is a permanent resident of Green-Wood Cemetery, with a large gray granite gravestone near the intersection of Dale and Sassafras Avenues.
Needless to say, Minor Keith was tremendously wealthy. And, it turns out, Keith was taking more than bananas out of Costa Rica: he was also buying pre-Columbian artifacts and bringing them to Brooklyn. After his will was probated, the Brooklyn Museum, in 1934, wound up with his collection of 4,500 items. Below is a pendant from that collection.
All went fairly well until recently, when the Brooklyn Museum apparently decided that its “Thanks” for that gift, all these years later, had now become a “Thanks, But No Thanks.” Perhaps the dusting had gotten to the museum. Or maybe it was just that it wanted to free up some storage space; just a bit of spring cleaning, museum-style. In any event, the Brooklyn Museum recently reached out to the National Museum of Costa Rica and made it an offer that might be difficult to refuse: the Keith Collection of Costa Rican artifacts (minus a few pieces that the Brooklyn Museum intends to keep and about 1,000 that have already been deaccessioned), free of charge. Just pay the shipping and handling, a mere $59,000, and we’ll put the items in the mail.
Unfortunately, it appears that Costa Rica is having some trouble coming up with the $59,000. Just like buying the Ginsu knife, the shipping and handling charges can kill you.
For the complete New York Times story, click here.